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updated: 1/4/2018 8:22 PM

Sign of the times: McDonald’s removes original neon display in Des Plaines

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Temperatures were in the single digits Thursday, but many were thinking of summer nights, first dates and when you could get a hamburger for only 15 cents.

Some symbols of that bygone era were taken down Thursday morning when workers began dismantling the 62-year-old neon road sign of Ray Kroc's original McDonald's in Des Plaines, with plans to remove and preserve it somewhere off-site. They later removed the tops of golden arches from the replica restaurant building and main "McDonald's" sign on it.

Bundled-up work crews from a sign company used cranes and other tools to carefully deconstruct the sign piece by piece. Passers-by stopped to take pictures and share memories, including Ellie and Arnie Seegers, who remember having lunch at the original McDonald's before Ellie gave birth to the couple's firstborn later that night.

"We've had a lot of history torn down," she said. "It's sad to see that history go."

The sign's removal precedes a scheduled teardown of the 32-year-old replica of the company's first franchised location, expected to begin in the coming days. And it comes a week after demolition began on a portion of the Rock 'n' Roll McDonald's in Chicago's River North, as part of a remodel and rebranding of that location.

McDonald's officials announced in November they planned to tear down the replica building at 400 Lee St. because of its location in an oft-flooded area and the difficulty of maintaining it. They said they planned to first remove the road sign and original artifacts from the building before demolition begins.

The red sign -- proclaiming "McDonald's Hamburgers" and "We Have Sold Over 1 Million" in neon lettering -- intersects an elongated golden arch and is topped by a once-animated moving "Speedee" chef character -- the original symbol of the fast food chain. The sign was built by Andrew Bork and Joe Sicuro of Laco Signs of Libertyville and turned on for the opening of Kroc's first store on April 15, 1955.

McDonald's officials still haven't revealed where the sign or other items will go or be displayed.

The removal of the sign Thursday comes amid pleas from historic preservationists, city leaders, locals and others on social media who called on McDonald's Corp. to keep the site intact.

Des Plaines History Center board members met with a McDonald's representative in late November in an attempt to delay demolition and preserve the site. Despite lengthy conversations, the corporate brass at company headquarters in Oak Brook reaffirmed the decision to demolish, the representative told History Center officials late last week.

Shari Caine, the center's executive director, said the representative reiterated reasons the company isn't willing to preserve the site: the frequent flooding in the area, repairs needed to the building, and the company's desire not to hand over control of McDonald's branding to another user.

That eliminated the possibility of the History Center or city maintaining the site left untouched. It would also rule out the Volo Auto Museum from being able to relocate the sign, building or other relics to its showrooms some 30 miles northwest -- despite a request from museum officials in November.

After removal of the sign is complete, the one-story replica building is expected to face the wrecking ball. Featuring red and white tiles and two 25-foot golden arches, the concrete block building was constructed in 1985 to resemble Kroc's first restaurant. It was actually the ninth in the chain, after he franchised the operation of the McDonald brothers of San Bernardino, California.

The Des Plaines eatery closed in 1984, deemed by the company to be outdated and with little room for indoor seating or a drive-through.

The site has operated as a passive museum for the last decade, since a downstairs display area of company history closed to the public after floods.

Mike McMahon, the city's director of community and economic development, said McDonald's has received required approvals from Cook County for demolition. But before the city will issue its demolition permit, ComEd must finish disconnecting utilities, he said.

After demolition, McDonald's plans to plant grass and donate the land to the city. Des Plaines officials say they don't have immediate plans for the land.